I arrived at the Marshall Public Library a few minutes before 9 am. There was a chill in the air, but a strong sense that it is going to a beautiful day! I was immediately greeted by the workday coordinator, Ed. His enthusiasm was immediately contagious, and soon I was just as excited as he was. He graciously topped off my coffee mug, and proceeded to show me the work that needed to be done. As we walked down to the work area, the other volunteers began to pile in- a few AmeriCorps members, some Mars Hill University students, and the rest of the crew from Marshall Native Gardens Initiative. All the tools needed for the day are already waiting at the site, and within just a few minutes we are all getting to work. One of the big tasks for the day was to relocate a small American chestnut tree and turn its original home into a small pond. This tree was no more than five feet tall, but "she" did not want to be moved. Rachelle, one of the MNGI volunteers, spoke of the trees as she would her own children, giving each one a personality. This lovely little chestnut held a special place in her heart, so we acted with care. After much of the morning had passed the little chestnut was ready to be moved to her new home. She put up a fight for a bit, but her roots were soon coaxed into being moved. Once she was in her new spot, the rest of the area could be shaped into a pond for the rain garden. While several of us were working with the chestnut and the pond, others were tackling the large task of moving a four-foot tall pile of mulch. This mulch was spread throughout the Butterfly Garden, the Forest Farm, and the Shrub Garden. And others, still, were digging holes and placing posts to put birdhouses on.
During our lunch hour, Ed gave those of us who were interested a tour of the library grounds. I could tell that this is going to be an excellent place for a ecoEXPLORE HotSpot! ecoEXPLORE is a citizen science program that was started about a year ago, that incorporates the use of technology with getting kids outside. Citizen science is basically what it is called: citizens making scientific observations. ecoEXPLORE is geared for students grades K-8, as an initiative to get them outside, exploring nature, by having kids take pictures of the plants and animals they see while wandering outside. Then they are able to send the photos they take to the Arboretum. "See it, Snap it, Share it!" Students who submit photos to the Arboretum earn points. They can earn up to 5 points per picture, and these points can be traded in for prizes, from a bug box to a selfie stick to an iPod Touch. Kids can earn one point for just submitting a photo. They can earn a second point if the photo is of an organism that is in the current Field Season. There are four seasons in ecoEXPLORE: Botany (study of plants), Herpetology (reptiles and amphibians), Entomology (insects), and Ornithology (birds). Kids can earn a third point if the observation was made at a HotSpot (a place, such as a library, that is chosen for ecoEXPLORERS to make observations), a fourth point for correctly identifying the organism, and a fifth point for a clear photograph.
After the tour, we headed back down to the pond area and finished up. It only took another hour or so, then we gathered all the supplies, put them away, and said our goodbyes.
I got to go back to the library a week and a half after our workday to introduce ecoEXPLORE to a group of elementary school students from a local school. While there I got to see the progress that had been made to the sites we helped with, and everything was looking great! The birdhouses were up, the pond was almost ready to be filled, and the little chestnut seemed content in her new home. Just last weekend, March 18th, the library was unveiled to the public as an ecoEXPLORE site. I was unable to attend this event, but I heard from a coworker that it was a success. Many of the students that came on the field trip brought their families back. One boy was so excited about the program that his father said he was talking a mile a minute after school that day. On Saturday he signed up for ecoEXPLORE, immediately checked out an iPod and a Discovery Pack, and went out to make observations and take pictures!
It’s exciting to know that, in the grand scheme of things, AmeriCorps Project Conserve made a contribution to the excitement and inspiration of an elementary student that, maybe one day, will be making observations of nature as his career.